SAN ANTONIO (AP) — One of them was a 1,000-yard rusher. The other a short-yardage specialist who scored an NFC-high 16 touchdowns.
Julius Jones and Marion Barber III provided quite a 1-2 running punch last season for the Dallas Cowboys. A slasher and a bruiser, the kind of combination Bill Parcells wanted.
But Parcells is gone, new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will be calling the plays in what is expected to be a more aggressive scheme and both runners would like to have an even bigger impact — Jones more scoring chances and Barber more playing time.
“I know he’s looking to expand his role, and I’m looking to expand my role as well,” Jones said.
Except the Cowboys don’t seem inclined — at least not yet — to make any significant changes in how Jones and Barber are used. No need messing up something that has worked so well.
“I don’t see much change from that standpoint,” said Tony Sparano, the assistant head coach and a carry-over from Parcells’ staff. “They both have talent, great talent. At the same time, they both bring a little something different to our offense, and we need it.”
In the Cowboys’ 23-10 victory over Indianapolis in the preseason opener Thursday night, Jones had six carries for 22 yards with a 13-yard reception. He played only the first two series — both long drives that ended with field goals — with quarterback Tony Romo and most starters.
While Jones converted a short third down, Barber was on the field inside the 20. Barber played until halftime and finished with 48 yards on 12 carries, including runs of 16 and 13 yards, and three catches for 11 yards.
“Whatever we have is good,” new coach Wade Phillips said. “It used to be you had one running back. Now it’s changed where a lot of teams have been able to utilize two good backs. That’s the situation that I’ve walked into, and I think it’s a good situation.”
Phillips spent the last three years as defensive coordinator at San Diego, where LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 1,815 yards and an NFL-record 28 touchdowns last season. And Phillips' first NFL job was as a Houston Oilers assistant for his dad, Bum, when Earl Campbell was carrying the ball.
Even though Jones and Barber with their 1,738 yards and 18 rushing TDs combined didn't match the numbers L.T. had last season, they were one of the NFL's better 1-2 rushing duos. Only six teams, including the Chargers and two other teams with individual 1,600-yard runners, had more production from their top two running backs.
"They're a good combination in that one of them is smaller, faster and one of them is bigger, stronger," Phillips said. "They're a little different styles, certainly they're different body types, but they both have good vision."
The 5-foot-10, 208-pound Jones was the 43rd pick in 2004 after the Cowboys traded out of the first round even though no runners had been chosen when it was their turn. He is going into the final year of his contract.
"This is where I want to be. I don't want to go anywhere else," Jones said. "This year, I'm just looking to prove myself as one of the top backs in the league and just prove to the coaches and my teammates that I'm a dependable guy they can count on to get the job done."
After missing half his rookie season with bruised ribs and a broken shoulder, and three more games in '05 with injuries, Jones finally played a full season last year.
Still Jones was frustrated in 2006, when he felt like he was "kind of running like a robot" and not using his instincts because of what Parcells was telling him to do. Plus, Jones averaged only 11 carries the final five games and his lone touchdown in the final nine games was a career-long 77-yard run on the second offensive snap against New Orleans.
"Any time you stay healthy, it's a blessed season," Jones said, trying to focus on the positives. "Hopefully, I can do the same thing this year. Everything else will take care of itself. I feel good. I'm ready to go."
Barber has 21 TDs (19 rushing, two receiving) in his 29 NFL games. He scored in four consecutive games last season, the team's longest streak since Emmitt Smith, the NFL career rushing leader, had TD runs in five in a row in 2000.
During the offseason, the 6-foot Barber bulked up a bit, adding 10 pounds to get to 221.
"I feel comfortable running. I don't feel sluggish," Barber said. "I got stronger, quicker. Otherwise, I would have been lazy."
A fourth-round pick in 2005, Barber began his rookie season as the fourth-string runner and didn't get his first extended action until Jones injured his ankle. In his first start, Barber ran for 127 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona _ yet has started only twice since.
"I can just do what I can do, be ready when they call my name," the soft-spoken Barber said. "I think it's about winning the game any way."
For seven seasons and two Super Bowls in the 1990s, Garrett was Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman's backup in Dallas. He won't be conservative, letting Romo throw downfield more often to Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn, Patrick Crayton and even Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten.
But that won't change the running philosophy.
"The running game is a lot of the same stuff. We were pretty successful with Marion and Julius," Witten said. "It's great for us. They've been able to play at a high level. The competition that they bring upon each other, really the way they play so well together, makes it better for everybody."